A Child’s Dream: The Dome Zero

The Dome Zero (silver) and the Dome Zero P2 test cars (red and green respectively). Photo © CarDesignNews.com

The 1970’s was an interesting time for Japan…

Japan was becoming a hotbed for industry in many sectors, including steel manufacturing, electronics, and of course, automotive manufacturing. Several manufacturers including Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Mazda were engaged in an arms race to build fun and affordable sports cars for export markets. Starting in the late ’60s, drivers here in the USA saw the introduction of the Nissan 240Z, an affordable and reliable offering with the classic European styling cues that relay the hallmarks of a proper sports car.

Motorsport of course was no exception. Cars like the legendary Toyota 2000GT and Datsun 240Z were picked up by notable teams like Shelby Racing and Brock Racing Enterprises and raced with varying degrees of success. In Japan, several home-grown outfits also began racing their own cars. Dome is one of these outfits.

The Birth of a Dream

The Dome Zero Prototype, featured on a product card. Photo © Road and Track

In 1975, Kabushiki Gaisha Dōmu, or “Dome” was founded by Minoru Hayashi with the purpose of building race cars. With its name meaning “A Child’s Dream,” it was the dream Hayashi to compete on the world’s stage of motorsports. However, these ambitions changed a short while after the company was founded. Disillusioned with the progress of their race car construction program, Dome pivoted towards producing their own sports cars. It was here that the Dome Zero was conceived.

For many people (including myself), the Dome Zero was an enigmatic sports car you could drive in Gran Turismo 4; a game I clearly spent too many hours playing and going as fast as possible down the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. It featured styling that made the DeLorean in Back to the Future ­look like a cheap kit car with its razor-sharp lines and wrap-around canopy. Powering this dream car was the venerable Nissan L28 Inline-6 making 145hp and mated to a 5-Speed manual transaxle. What the engine lacked in power, the car more than made up for it with responsive handling and a futuristic, lightweight fiberglass body that would make Colin Chapman smile.

The resemblance between the Dome Zero Prototype and other notable wedge designs like the 1979 Lotus Esprit is uncanny. The ’70s were an interesting time for Car Design. Photo © CarDesignNews.com

Dome followed an absolutely grueling schedule to bring the car to fruition in time for the 1978 Geneva Auto Show. However, when it debuted it became one of the show’s most popular cars, with showgoers immediately placing orders for the new Japanese wondercar that was shorter than the Ford GT40. In addition to this, the company’s coffers were kept flush with cash thanks to licensing agreements with toy companies to produce models of the razor-turned-sports car.

A year later, the Dome Zero P2 was created for the American auto show circuit, with revised bumpers and pop-up headlights. This road-going door-stop was tested by several notable American automotive magazines, including Road & Track, who’s contributor Dennis Simanaitis described the car’s handling “as-though-on-rails variety.” Road & Track, however, would slam the Zero P2’s styling as “derivative”.

Road & Track Magazine tested the green Dome Zero P2, which was designed to be homologated for American highways. Photo © Road & Track.

Dome and their Zero seemed poised to reinvent the Japanese Sportscar and take the market by storm. So why is it that most of us have forgotten about this amazing car until 2004 when teenagers like me were whipping it around Trial Mountain in Gran Turismo 4?

The Two Strikes

A Magazine Scan of an article reviewing the red Dome Zero P2, which was designed for European markets.

Two things happened to the Dome Zero that put a kibosh on the production efforts. First, was the Japanese regulatory body for homologation rejecting the initial design of the Zero. The regulations at the time were very strict, and the original Zero prototype did not meet them due to various reasons. In order to try to get around these regulations, the Dome Zero P2 was designed for homologation in export markets in Europe and the United States. However, these new prototypes also failed to achieve homologation for those markets.

Following the failure of bringing the Dome Zero to production, Hayashi decided to pivot the company again and restructure development efforts from building a production sports car to a full-on race car. The reasoning behind this was simple: “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday.” Hayashi had hoped that the publicity from a successful racing program would translate to renewed attention to homologate the Zero for production, and sell cars. Additionally, his team had ambitions to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the highest arena of motorsport. In order to achieve such a lofty goal, Dome created the Zero RL for racing in the Group 6 prototype class.

The Dome Zero RL was an interesting-looking, prototype, with almost no resemblance to the Zero P2 prototypes. Photo © Paul Kooyman

The Zero RL was designed for straight-line speed on the Mulsanne Straight, with an unusually narrow front track, and the longest body in its class at slightly over 16 feet. The design of the car was also very striking and recognizable, thanks to its unique angular bodyshell that interestingly did not resemble the production prototype. Powered by the legendary Cosworth DFV V8 engine, the Zero RL cut a sharp profile with the sound to match.

It was unfortunate then, that the Zero RL was not a successful endeavor for Hayashi and Dome. Despite it being the third fastest car on the field, in its first outing in the 6 Hours of Silverstone the Zero RL managed to finish 12th in a field of 13. Then, at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, both entered cars failed to finish the race due to technical problems. In the subsequent years, Dome returned time and again to try and clinch a finish at Le Mans, only to be met with Did-Not-Finish across the board. This proved to be the second and final strike for Dome’s efforts in creating a winning race car and successful production car, as in 1982 all racing efforts were canceled and both the Zero and Zero RL projects were scrapped. The company would refocus and go on to become a race car constructor for various teams, and the Zero would largely be forgotten as a footnote in Japanese automotive history.

A Virtual Legacy

My own virtual photo of my Dome Zero from Gran Turismo 5, fully tuned for racing around Trial Mountain.

The Dome Zero remained forgotten to mainstream audiences up until 2004 when the car was featured in the hit PlayStation 2 game Gran Turismo 4. In fact, I can recall doing the necessary racing modifications and tuning the Nissan L28 engine to nearly 350 hp in-game, and then going racing against a field of Lotuses and a few Honda NSX’s! Of course, I won those races thanks to the car’s low simulated weight and a fully race-tuned Inline-6.

I know I’m not alone with my obsession with the Dome Zero. Thanks to a series of very popular video games, the Dome Zero is now a well-known and mythical sports-car-that-could’ve-been. It’s 70’s razor-edge wedge styling looks right at home on the walls of an 80’s kid’s bedroom, next to that poster of the Lamborghini Countach with a buxom blonde draped over it. Its design and the story behind the car just lends itself to the imagination, and begs the question “Why didn’t this get made?”. It’s unfortunate the Dome Zero is regulated to “what could have been”, but thankfully, people like Gran Turismo creator and Polyphony Digital CEO Kazunori Yamauchi and his deep passion for cars allow people like me to experience what it might have been like driving the Dome Zero on my favorite race tracks.

And that’s more than enough for me.

The green Dome Zero P2 makes a pass. Photo © Road & Track.
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Skyline Matsuri 2019 trailer released!

My pictures from last weekends Skyline Matsuri was used in this video! If you’re a fan of epic movie trailers, then watch this video now!

Special thanks to Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics!

So now I have a Twitter and a Facebook page

I had no choice little Miata. I had no choice.

I’ve finally joined the 21st Century and created a Twitter account, and a Facebook page for Corkscrew’d! Now, you can follow me on Twitter @corkscrew_d, or like my Facebook Page!

Now on to upgrading my WordPress account, and selling some prints!

I wanna put Alfa Romeo wheels on the Shinsen Miata

My ideal rims! Photo taken from Google somewhere

Have I gone mad?…

…or is it just the sex appeal of those five spoke “Teledial” wheels on the 2000’s Alfa Romeo 156?

I have a fondness for wheels with simple geometric shapes. It must be because one of my first car obsessions; the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. The wheels on that car had a simple five spoke design that consisted of basically a solid wheel with five circular holes cut out of it. It was so simple, when I sketched cars in my composition book during class, I always drew those wheels. In fact, I still do!

Hnnnnng! Photo taken from NetCarShow.com

Recently I was chewing the fat with one of my best friends, and the subject of wheels came up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting something a little more eye-catching for my Shinsen Miata, but finding wheels that I think look better than the stock five-spoke alloys is easier said than done. I could do what everyone else is doing and buy some JDM-style rims, but that option can get pretty pricey. Plus, I’m not exactly standing out at any Cars and Coffee events since there’s always a Miata with JDM rims anyway.

I started to lament that there weren’t a lot of aftermarket options that looked like my ideal design. I’d love to put Teledial-style wheels on the Shinsen, but my options were severely limited. Then, I had a thought: Why not look at used wheels from cars that used the Teledial design? I started doing more research, and almost immediately I found the ideal wheel.

And it belongs to a car never sold in the USA.

The Alfa Romeo 156 and the gorgeous Teledial alloy wheels. Photo taken from
Autoevolution.com

The (near) Perfect Wheels

Alfa Romeo has been using the Teledial-style wheel designs for decades, especially most recently in their current lineup of US-import vehicles. Of course, those newer wheels are pricey and too big for my diminutive Miata. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo made a 16-inch wheel that is nearly identical to the Miata’s stock wheels, and they’re pretty inexpensive (not factoring shipping)! The 2003 Alfa 156 and 147 had the option of a lightweight aluminum wheel with five circular “Teledial” spokes, and they look gorgeous. Aside from being based on a classic Alfa design, the treatment of the wheels is also nearly identical to the Miata’s, so they aren’t gaudy or too distracting like some other wheels I’ve seen.

I dug deeper trying to learn as much as I can about these particular wheels. I was worried that the wheel size and the lug pattern was too different from the stock Miata wheels to even consider as a replacement, but then I stumbled across Wheel-Size.com; a massive database for wheel fitment and tire sizes. With it, I was able to find the the exact specifications for both my Shinsen Miata’s Wheels, and the Alfa Romeo Teledial Wheels:

2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L 5spd:

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 4x100mm
  • Offset: 40mm
  • Center Bore: 54.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/45R16

2003 Alfa Romeo 156 1.6L-2.5L

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 5x98mm
  • Offset: 41.5mm
  • Center Bore: 58.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/55R16

As you can see, not only is the rim size practically the same, but the Offset, Center Bore and Tire Size are incredibly similar! The only drawback to these wheels however is the lug pattern. Instead of the 4 lug, 100mm diameter pattern, Alfa Romeo utilized a 5 lug pattern 98mm in diameter. This means that if I were to find these wheels somewhere, I would need to rely on a PCD Wheel Adapter that changes the lug pattern from 4x100mm to 5x98mm. And that’s even if I find the wheels; because Alfa Romeo never sold this car in the states, all examples of this particular wheel is sold overseas. That means more shipping costs!

Alas, it might be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Still, I’d like to imagine how surprised people would get when I roll up with a Shinsen Miata using Alfa Romeo rims!

You know what? I don’t think Navy Blue Powder-Coated rims look half bad on the Shinsen either!

I’m obsessed with the Mazda Autozam AZ-1

Fiberglass body, gullwing doors, and mid-engined with a redline in the 9’s. It’s the Pagani Huayra of Kei Cars. Photo © The Drive

I’ve always liked Kei-Cars…

Designed to skirt around engine size regulations, Kei Cars are an interesting by-product of Japan’s need for personal transportation. These JDM-only cars are as unique as the country itself, often with interesting features that we could only dream about in the North American Market. Because of the regulations that birthed these cars, Japan ended up with a widely diverse group of vehicles designed with a certain-size footprint, and a maximum engine capacity of 660 cubic centimeters (0.66 liters). The Autozam AZ-1 was Mazda’s sportier interpretation of these regulations. 

Designed with a mid-mounted transverse 657cc Inline-3 motor making 63 horses, a fiberglass reinforced plastic body on a steel chassis weighing 1600 pounds, a 5-speed transaxle, and gullwing (!) doors, the AZ-1 had exotic looks and features in a minuscule package.

And I’ve got to have one.

Mazda only made about 4500 for the Japanese Domestic Market, but now that the car is more than 25 years old, you could legally import them into the United States and get them registered as a “gray market” import. In fact, there are several importers around the United States that would help you locate a foreign car, take care of the paperwork, and have the car shipped to you!

I want it…

After some looking around, I found a pretty decent if not heavily used example with around 120,000 miles on the odometer, and some body modifications. For a rare JDM-only car, this doesn’t seem that much of a bad deal for around $7,300! These cars are appreciating though as they’re now past the 25-year import rule, so now it isn’t uncommon for seeing low-mileage examples fetch around $15,000.

I guess I better start saving some money!

Photo © Bring A Trailer. Wouldn’t this thing look cool with Bolt-On Rim Fans?

I’m a sucker for Gulf Liveries, in case you couldn’t tell.

I don’t exactly know what it is about Gulf Liveries that makes me like them so much. Maybe it’s the variations of the baby blue and orange scheme across the different race cars that’s had them? Maybe it’s because the there hasn’t really ever been an ugly version of the Gulf Livery? Whether its the famous stripes that adorned the Ford GT40 Mk1 in 1966, the stripes on the Gulf-Porsche 917, or the orange on baby-blue arrows on a Porsche 911 I recently saw, just seeing this paint scheme makes me giddy!

See the car in question at the The 14th Annual Orinda Car Show photo gallery!

-W


Monterey Car Week is over, and I didn’t know I could get hung over from Photography

Well, It’s official; You CAN actually get hungover from processing photos all day! Granted, these days it’s much easier with programs like Adobe Lightroom, but sometimes it can take forever. I’m still going through photos I took from the different events I attended during Monterey Car Week!

Here’s some of the galleries that you’ll be seeing soon:

  • The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion 2018: I already have most of photos up, but I still need to go through what was taken with my phone, like I did with the The Rolex Monterey Pre-Reunion.
  • The 2018 Concorso Italiano: I managed to score a ticket to the Concorso Italiano this year instead of sneaking in and crashing the reception like I did last year! I can’t wait to go through those photos!
  • Exotics on Cannery Row: I managed to check out the famous Exotics on Cannery Row this year. It was amazing to see some insanely rare and expensive cars just parading down cannery row and spitting flames out of their exhaust! I think I might have developed tinnitus though.
  • The Annual Morgan Club Dinner: Thanks to a friend I was able to attend the Morgan Club Dinner and hang out with some really cool car Morgan Enthusiasts, Photographers, and even one of the drivers that was racing that weekend at Laguna Seca (See the #33 Morgan Plus 4)!
  • The 2018 Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance: This was one of the most exclusive events I’ve ever been a part of, and some of the machines that were on display were incredible! I’ve never been close to a multi-million dollar Ferrari before, but there were THREE Ferrari 250 Testarossas on the lawn! Not to mention the largest display of Tucker’s I’ve ever seen! I can’t wait to get through those photos!

On top of that, I’m going to be selling prints of my favorite shots on my Visual Society profile! You can access my print galleries by going to the “Shop” link on the menu bar. These are large files though, so it might take a while to get everything up!

Stay tuned!

-W


Hanging out at Orinda Cars and Coffee

Imagine how I felt when a freakin’ McLaren MP4-12C parked right next to my Miata. It’s easy to feel out of place when something like that happens. And then I remembered I was at Orinda Cars and Coffee, and my car was also on display. There are no winners or losers when everyone loves what they drive!

Ever since Blackhawk Cars and Coffee ended, a lot of the smaller local shows will get a little bit more attention as enthusiasts look for another gathering place to show off their cars and talk to other like-minded individuals. It’s a great opportunity to just relax, hang out, and talk about cars. Orinda is one of those smaller shows that I think will get bigger as time goes on and word spreads. Hopefully I’ll get to document this show as it slowly grows into something bigger!

Come see the new gallery!

-W